CHELSEA manager Jose Mourinho made it extremely clear he wasn't about to have a pop at Manuel Pellegrini and Manchester City.
Crystal-clear, in fact.
"They have everything. Everything." he said. "On top of that, and I want to make it very clear that, for me, it's just a coincidence and nothing else, the reality is they have many crucial decisions in their favour. So they are lucky."
"Against Liverpool, the [Raheem] Sterling 'goal'. The penalty on [Luis] Suarez. Against Newcastle, [Cheick Tiote's] 'goal' that is a clear goal. Against Tottenham, [Matt] Dawson's 'goal', the penalty, the red card. They are having everything. I repeat: it's just pure coincidence. The referees try to do their best and sometimes they make mistakes and normally during the season the mistakes are split. But at the moment they have everything in their favour. But it's just a coincidence."
Message received loud and clear. City get all the calls. And it's just a coincidence. What's less of a coincidence is the script we've seen umpteen times. With Rafa Benitez. With Arsene Wenger. With David Moyes. With Pellegrini the last time Chelsea and Manchester City met. Mourinho is rattling cages.
With Pellegrini, it's especially heartfelt, because Mourinho has a track record of directing barbs at his predecessors. It happened with Claudio Ranieri at Chelsea, Roberto Mancini at Inter and, of course, Pellegrini himself at Real Madrid. He called him the "first loser" after the Chilean finished second in his only season at the Bernabeu. And, when he joined Malaga after his sacking, Mourinho quipped: "If I were ever to be fired from Madrid, I wouldn't go to Malaga. I'd go to a top team in Italy or England."
You can call it mind-games, you can call it lack of class. Different managers react in different ways. After he called West Ham's football "prehistoric", Sam Allardyce first seemed rattled, saying he didn't "give a s***". But then he seemed to have a right giggle about it; and why not? It wasn't his team who gave up two points at home in midweek.
The irony is that tomorrow at Eastlands - based on previous form, in particular his outings at Arsenal and Manchester United, both scoreless draws - Mourinho will likely adopt the Big Sam game-plan. In other words, we'll see a tight back four, central midfielders pushed right back at the edge of their own box and a lone centre-forward (at Old Trafford, there wasn't even that, just Andre Schurrle looking lost) isolated up the pitch. The main difference - you would hope - is that rather than big lumps to Andy Carroll we'll see balls into space for Eden Hazard and Willian to chase down.
It's not that Mourinho won't be justified in playing that way. Against City, away, it's the right approach. And he's shown enough times that he can vary his style of play based on the opponent. Nor is it that he's somehow hypocritical: he has no duty not to be, his job is to do what's best for Chelsea. It's just that you wish the media would call him on it more often when he pulls stuff like this. It's his duty to try to get away with it; it's the duty of others to point out the flaws in what he says.
Compiling a list of winners and losers in the transfer window is tricky, but at first glance Chelsea appear to belong to the former category. They sold two players - Juan Mata and Kevin de Bruyne - who had hardly contributed this season, and added a much-needed defensive stopper in midfield (Nemanja Matic), a pacy winger of the kind Mourinho craves (Mohamed Salah) and, though he'll only join in the summer, one of the more promising young central defenders in Europe (Kurt Zouma). Even better is the fact the deals will allow Chelsea to show a paper profit of nearly £30million that they badly need for Financial Fair Play purposes.
United will come out ahead if Mata performs to his abilities: if he lifts them into the top four, he'll serve his purpose in the here and now. He'll buy David Moyes some more breathing space and enable him to lay the foundation for next season. Arsenal made the short-term signing many expected, what few would have predicted though is that it would be veteran midfielder Kim Kallstrom - who was injured yesterday in training - and not the striker who would ease the workload on Olivier Giroud.
Tottenham raised cash and saved some more through the departures of Jermain Defoe and Lewis Holtby, while Manchester City may have dodged a bullet in not bringing in Fernando and Eliaquim Mangala at inflated asking prices. Which leaves Liverpool, who sent Ian Ayre all the way to the Ukraine believing he had a deal in place with Yevhen Konoplyanka (he did) and with his club (he probably did too, though it fell apart at the last minute). Ayre came in for much ridicule, much of it for his own fans, still smarting from missing out on Salah. But, in fact, you wonder if they really needed a player with Konoplyanka's skillset on a team that's already struggling to accommodate Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling relative to, say, a central midfielder or defensive help.
Racing Santander were expelled from Spain's Copa del Rey after walking on to the pitch and refusing to fulfil their fixture against Real Sociedad on Thursday. They did so because they were owed more than six months' worth of wages and wanted to draw attention to the lack of support they have had from Spanish football authorities. They were fined a nominal amount and banned from next year's competition.
Santander aren't the only Spanish club to face issues over debt and unpaid wages, though they are probably the most extreme. What's frustrating is that while the authorities and the courts evidently can't resolve this quickly enough, football is failing to step in. And yet, there would be a very simple solution.
Every club receives TV money via the league. This is done in instalments, usually quarterly or monthly. You simply withhold payment until the club produces evidence that the wages are up to date. Yes, it's a "nanny state" attitude. But players are, along with fans, the lifeblood of the game. Both as a sport and as a business.